Artist Johanne Immis was born in the 14th district of Paris and raised in Les Ulis, France. When she moved to New York City as an adolescent, she used her creativity to make friends and explore her imagination. Today, Johanne is a painter, designer, blogger, and singer/songwriter. During our interview, Johanne told me that she’s “just getting started,” but I’m convinced that Johanne has been an artist for all of her life. I am so excited to share a bit of her work and story with all of you. I hope you enjoy our conversation.
CM: I know that you were born and raised in France until you were about 10 years old. Tell us a little bit about your childhood. What are some of your fondest memories from your years in France?
JI: My favorite childhood memory would be of my best friend and I climbing the blooming cherry blossom trees, right in front of where I lived, as we would share stories. Also, there was a small shrub where ladybugs nested. It was so beautiful to see them flying all around. I used to be amazed by seeing so many of them.
CM: What are some of your earliest memories of creating art in France? Did you learn to draw and paint from someone in particular or is it something you picked up on your own?
JI: I remember drawing on my walls; my mom actually let me do it. I always loved the color blue. I also remember making pottery with clay and painting the final product. I picked up my style of drawing from reading Sailor Moon Mangas by Naoko Takeuchi. She is my favorite artist.
CM: What prompted your move to the U.S.? Do you remember what you felt back then, thinking about leaving your home and moving to a new place? What expectations did you have? What were your hopes and fears at that time?
JI: From what I was told, it was to find better job opportunities. I was sad to leave all of my friends and the place I knew as my home. I expected so much from America, like having a cool locker and riding the school bus—to me, back then, that’s what being cool was all about! My biggest hope was to master the English language. I don’t remember having any fears back then.
CM: When you arrived in New York City, what was that experience like for you as a young girl?
JI: It was a culture shock. I was amazed by the city landscape and the tall buildings. There were definitely a lot of people in the busy streets of NYC, more than I could have imagined. At first, I think I was intimidated by living in Crown Heights. It was rough back in the days.
CM: Did you find that creating art helped you to cope with that time in your life? If yes, how?
JI: Absolutely, art helped me a lot, especially because I did not speak English very well. I would draw something and give it to a friend to explain what I wanted to say. I remember drawing funny pictures and giving them to my neighbors, and they would always laugh, and say that they liked them. Moments like that definitely made me more confident in creating more.
CM: You shared with me that, like myself, you are a survivor of domestic violence. I’m sorry you know what it is like to experience abuse and I am glad you are safe today.
I am a firm believer in the power of art to help heal the wounds of trauma. Do you share that belief?
JI: Definitely! When I was in that situation, I did not draw often due to the experience. From time to time I would do a quick sketch of how I felt in secrecy to cope with what I was dealing with. I was in a very negative mindset and space back then, so instead of drawing, I developed bad habits, which took me away from art even more. I wanted to find myself again, so when I started drawing, I would mostly draw pictures of women with hope in their eyes, which gave me hope for myself. Through art, I was slowly able to discover parts of who I am. I became stronger and happier through creativity.
CM: Did art take on a different meaning for you after that experience? What changed?
JI: When I was being abused, it felt like my spirit was wearing a mask to cope with it all. Now I use art to uplift people around me; I spread love through my art. I changed my outlook on life. I look for the good in everything and I don’t hide my experiences. I choose to share them to uplift others.
CM: What is something that surprised you about domestic violence?
JI: Something that surprised me about domestic violence is how it can happen to anyone. I never thought it could happen to me, yet it did.
CM: What is something you wish others knew about that type of experience?
JI: I want people to know that there is a way out and to never give up on yourself. That no matter what, you are amazing and beautiful.
CM: Do you identify with the word “survivor?” What does that word mean to you? Are the girls and women in your paintings also survivors? What have they survived?
JI: Yes, I do. A survivor is someone who stands proud of who they are and what they believe in. The women in my art are survivors; they have survived the harsh times that life brings sometimes.
CM: Since leaving the person who abused you, what have you learned about yourself, as a woman and as an artist?
JI: I have learned that I am whole, and that I am full of love and light and goodness. I have learned that I am full of wonder and that I am a Queen who is always learning and growing daily.
CM: What inspires your art today? What is your “why”?
JI: Love is my biggest inspiration because all good things come from Love. I want that to translate into how my art speaks to the world. My “why” is that we all need Love, every single one of us.
CM: I want to ask you about a few of your paintings. Let’s start with the “alien” theme. I really enjoy those paintings. What was the inspiration behind those creations?
JI: Thank you so much! I wanted to create women that any woman of any race can relate to. I wanted to bring women together through an alien painting and be able to have each woman be able to relate to one another no matter what the color of their skin is. Unity.
CM: One of your pieces is called “I Wonder If You’re Happy.” What can you tell us about that piece?
JI: That drawing came from a thought I had. Sometimes people put on a mask to hide how they really feel until someone reaches out and asks if they’re happy. I’ve definitely been there before where I wore masks to hide my true feelings.
CM: What about your piece “I Know You Can Do It”? Can you talk about the importance of having faith in oneself? And also the importance of having a loving support system? Who in your life reminds you that you can do it?
JI: It’s a must! We have to believe in ourselves because our wellness depends on it. It all starts with our powerful minds. That’s why we have to speak great things about ourselves daily to fuel our mindsets for greatness, or else we can easily let negative thoughts take root, and that’s never a good idea. My mother is my reminder. She is the strongest woman I know with a heart of gold.
CM: Many of your drawings and paintings portray tender moments between young couples in love. I know you are the mother of a young boy. What do you hope your son learns from you about healthy behaviors in relationships?
JI: I hope that my son learns that real love exists and that his father and I created him out of that real love. We are a blessed family that will show him, through our actions, how to love.
CM: I know that you often paint live in different cities. What is that like, creating on the spot in front of a live audience?
JI: It’s so exciting and I am always nervous when I do it. Sometimes my hand shakes, but then people come up and talk to me, which is so relaxing. It’s a thrill! I love to paint most when I’m in front of people. I love the energy and the people that I get to meet and talk to—they’re priceless.
CM: Is your work available for purchase?
JI: Yes, I do sell books, apparel, and coloring pages on my website www.Johanneimmis.com.
CM: Some of your artwork has appeared in clothing designs. How did those opportunities arise? What do you enjoy about those sorts of collaborations?
JI: Social media is so awesome—people found my page and reached out to collaborate. I love it. It allows me to use my gift along with someone else’s to make a cool idea come to life.
CM: I know that you’ve designed a special treat for my audience, an exclusive page for them to download and color. And you’ve even shared a second coloring page as well! Thank you so much! What can you tell us about the drawings you created and the inspiration behind them?
JI: Yes! ♡ These coloring pages were inspired by Hope. Whoever is reading this, I want you to know that there is always hope, and that you are an amazing person with a great purpose.
CM: What opportunities are you seeking in this new year?
JI: To paint live in more states, as well as overseas with my family. To share my art with the world to create more smiles. ♡
CM: Where can people connect with you to learn more?
JI: You can find me at www.Johanneimmis.com.
CM: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
JI: Yes, you are created for greatness. Fill your mind with kind words about yourself. You can achieve your dreams if you believe! Never give up, Bosses Never Quit! Sending you all lots of Love!
To learn more about Johanne Immis, please visit her website.
PLEASE NOTE: The opinions, representations, and statements made in response to questions asked as part of this interview are strictly those of the interviewee and not of Chloé McFeters or Tortoise and Finch Productions, LLC as a whole.